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Dramatic qualifying makes for happy host

Updated: 2014-03-07 08:22
By Reuters ( China Daily)

Australians thrilled after China locks up final Asian Cup berth

China squeaked into the final 2015 Asian Cup qualifying spot in nerve-wracking style on Wednesday, dropping a 3-1 decision to Iraq but edging out Lebanon on goal differential.

The result left host Australia cheering.

China needed to avoid defeat against third-placed Iraq in Sharjah to take the second qualifying spot in Group C but it went 3-0 down after an hour and was left looking anxiously at the Group B score between Thailand and Lebanon for help.

Lebanon led 5-1 after 63 minutes in Bangkok and was set to join 2007 winner Iraq in the 16-team finals as the best third-place side across the five groups of four before late drama swung the outcome.

China midfielder Zhang Xizhe converted a 73rd-minute penalty to cut its deficit, moments before Thai substitute Adisak Kraisorn broke down the right and fired home to make the score 5-2 and send the Chinese through with a goal difference of -1, one better than Lebanon's.

"We played the match with two souls," China coach Alain Perrin said after his first match at the helm.

"The first one was on the pitch and the second was outside it as we were monitoring the results of the other matches.

Dramatic qualifying makes for happy host

"Iraq controlled the first half and they scored two goals while we were the better side in the second period. We pulled a goal back and could have scored more."

Younus Mahmood fired the two first-half goals for Iraq before Ali Adnan struck a third from a narrow angle.

"I was confident we would qualify because we had fighting players," said Iraq coach Hakeem Shakir.

Lebanon's assistant coach Carlo Gaiby was philosophical after the narrow failure of his side to reach its second finals.

"We missed out by just one goal but that is soccer and we cannot do anything about that," he said.

Australian organizers welcomed Iraq's qualification, but it was the news that China would compete at an 11th consecutive Asian Cup that had them buzzing.

Having the world's most populous nation in the tournament is sure to boost television ratings, while the large number of Chinese in Australia will help ticket sales.

An celebratory event in the Chinatown district of Sydney with Asian Cup organizers was quickly scheduled for Thursday morning.

"Of the 2.5 million Australians of Asian heritage, Chinese make up by far the biggest single group with more than 900,000 residents and almost half a million calling NSW (New South Wales) home," said NSW Minister for Citizenship and Communities Victor Dominello.

"I've spoken to a lot of members of the Chinese community who are delighted their team will play in Australia."

Defending champion Japan and South Korea, which finished third last time, had already qualified courtesy of their performances in Qatar four years ago, along with runners-up Australia.

They were joined by Bahrain, Iran, UAE, Oman, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, who made it through the qualifiers, while the Democratic People's Republic of Korea booked a place by winning the AFC Challenge Cup.

The draw for the finals takes place in Sydney on March 26.

(China Daily 03/07/2014 page23)